Thulani is on the cover of the CNN Online Spread - so proud! I’ve never met a man with so much passion to make a difference in his community. :’)
On July 22nd, 2012, I was flying home to Phoenix, Arizona from Atlanta, Georgia. It’s now November 24th, 2012 and to say that I have, “caught up to myself”, would make the meaning of life feel slightly insignificant for me.
Prior to my arrival in Atlanta, Georgia, I spent close to seven days in Johannesburg, South Africa and Lusaka, Zambia. Ever since I got back from Africa, I have been trying to write the words that I am writing now. For the past three months and 11 days, I have been trying to muster up the energy and the words to tell about my final accounts in Africa, my afterthoughts, and the post culture shock.
And then, there is growth. Looking back, I feel as if I had to allow myself some time for the trip to marinate and settle into my purpose and into my existence. Right now, writing about this, feels good and it feels right. For once, procrastination has served me in very, eloquent way.
After you experience greatness, it’s impossible not to spread it…greatness is an infection. In Africa, I felt small. I felt as if my surroundings were bigger than I was. And if I allow myself to think about it further and deeper, I literally just, watched people. I observed. I watched people and how the lived, worked and played but most importantly – how they saw the world. Perspective is everything. Now, before I expand on my reflection-centric part of this blog post, I would like to explain my final encounters in the motherland.
I remember, the last Thursday we were in Africa, we woke up pretty early and we drove and we drove. I also remember, taking a lot of video clips during this portion of the trip because we were traveling through a rural area. It was just like it is of television; small, African children with smiling bright faces, following your caravan, mother’s anxiously watching and waving as their children run restlessly through the landscape. I think we were all a little surprised when we approached a vast cattle farm. Made of mostly young boys and men, the cattle farm was solely sustained by the people of the community. We were able to get to watch the cattle get rinsed and cleaned and they also showed us their treasury record book.
I was so inspired by the success of this small community. They set up their own system in order to sustain their farms. It was quite compelling. Within the same rural area, we visited a chilly-farm, which was also very impressive. They showed us the beginning, the middle and the end of the chilly-making process. We were all so impressed with their community-success, that we bought two 6-packs of chilly from the small farmers. It is these people that are making a difference in their communities. These small farmers and their families’ work so hard, day in and day out in order to merely, survive.
After our exciting morning of touring the farms, we took a spontaneous trip to the local market inside of Lusaka and boy; I was completely taken aback. As soon as we unloaded the bus, Zambian merchants flocked us for sales and purchases. “Ma’am, Sister, My Lady…” They all screamed at me as I searched for items I wanted to take home to friends and family. It was a very overwhelming experience and I wasn’t sure if I was getting what I paid for. I made sure to stay close to my fellow travelers so I wouldn’t get gipped in exchange for product and currency. Never in my life did I think I would experience such pressure to consume. It felt like a madhouse.
Luckily, I made it out alive with a few special pieces I was able to bring back to the States. This experience alone widened my eyes. When you get the opportunity to grow up and go out into the world and see things you’ve never seen before, jump at the opportunity like it’s the last thing you’ll ever be able to do on this planet. The world is so vast and so are we, if only, we take the time to explore it. After the market, we headed towards our final destination for our stay in Zambia, The Safari Resort outside of Lusaka. ¾’s of the way there, we were fascinated by the sunset. Although the ride was long and bumpy, seeing the sun like that - nothing will ever compare.
It was a little chilly once we arrived at the Resort but let me tell you, the stars were absolutely magical. I remember walking to Allison’s and I’s cabin over a bumpy, grass hill and even though my luggage was flopping all over the place, I couldn’t help but continuously lift my head up the sky as I slowly acknowledged the curvature of the earth accompanied by the most vivid patch of stars. It was completely breathtaking. Our first night at the Resort was probably one of the best nights of my life. We settled in and washed up for dinner. As we all headed over the hill to the main lodge, I noticed everyone admiring the stars just as much as I was. Once again, our jolly and conversation lasted throughout dinner as we recalled recent memories from the trip and bonded over things from our pasts.
Every individual I connected with had something significant about them; we were all so special, in our own ways and somehow, we co-exited so perfectly. Upon eating we all hung out, in and around the lodge. Some of us played pool while others sipped wine around the fire. Many of us decided to stand outside, stargaze and spin around in circles like children. It was true bliss. I remember lying down on a grass hill, looking up into the velvet-blue sky and seeing the stars as crystal, white diamonds. They were so near and so vivid; I couldn’t possibly comprehend their beauty.
Since it was so many months ago, I vaguely remember the last 48-hours of the trip however, it was one of many 48-hour segments of my life that are most dear to my heart so I do recall my overall enjoyment of the time spent on the resort. I woke up on a frosty morning, preparing to embark on my first Safari! Trying to stay as warm as possible, we all bundled up in scarves and then boarded the caravans! This was one of my favorite parts of the trip because never in a million years, did I think I would be seeing wildlife in this way. Standing inches away from a wild lion and taking pictures within yards of a giraffe were only a few of the encounters I treasure from this experience.
After the Safari, we were free to enjoy other activities such as going to the pool and/or Jacuzzi, going boating, hoarse back riding, bird watching and many other fun activities. I decided to go on the boat ride – a very fun experience to say the least! Upon doing so, I decided to take a dive in the pool! Swimming in the wintertime in Africa – what a beautiful life it is! And then, we all at a continental, BBQ lunch provided by the Resort as an entire CHEGG/ONE Team. By this point, our “team” felt more like a family. And by this time, I started to get a little sad because I knew that within a few hours, I would be on my way back to the United States of America.
I took a deep breath. I waited. I exhaled. I realized. I absorbed. And I lived. As we began packing all of our things, writing our letters and saying our goodbyes, Levi went around to get our final statements on the trip. It was a bit of an emotional time. I actually remember the last 45-minutes of our time spent at the resort like it was yesterday. I remember getting the jitters when Levi asked me to record my final statement. I remember my heart raced a little when I turned my letter into Matt. I remember getting anxious in the Lodge Office because my Mac wasn’t receiving Wi-Fi so I couldn’t check-in early for our arrival at the airport. I remember Allison and Ted giving their final remarks over the hillside of the resort. I remember all of us packing into that little, light-blue caravan that dropped us off at the airport in Lusaka, Zambia.
I remember hugging our bus driver. I remember everyone trying to buy souvenirs inside and throughout the airport. I remember pulling out my pillow, taking a sleeping aid and waiting to wake up in Amsterdam. After 18 hours of flying, we were landing in Amsterdam, only to board another flight to Atlanta, Georgia. I had to stop and buy shirt at the Amsterdam Airport Store, just to prove I was there. J
About 12 hours later, I was standing in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport saying goodbye to my last ONE/Chegg constituent. I could almost not believe that in three hours, I would be arriving in Phoenix, Arizona – the place where this journey all began. As I boarded the plane to Phoenix, I realized that culture shock would hit, I would be extremely jetlagged and the mere fact that I was just in Africa, would all too soon settle in. However, in that moment, I was still on my journey. I was still waiting for that once in a lifetime experience to South Africa and Zambia to end. Literally, 12 months ago from this very day, Africa was just and only a dream.
BACK IN THE STATES
The first seventy-two hours back, I think I slept - the entire seventy-two hours. I remember one of my first meals within those seventy-two hours was at Chipotle and I was in reverse culture shock because Chipotle pride lies within having food with integrity – an interesting characteristic for food I might add. But anyway while in Africa, I didn’t have to be concerned with the integrity of the food because everything was holistically and naturally grown.
Within the first three weeks of my arrival, I tried to scribble down the very words that I am writing now but it just wasn’t happening. Over the course of the past semester, it wasn’t happening. But I think, after being back on campus and settling into my responsibilities and exploring my consciousness and who I am, I have been able to smooth the internship out and make it a part of me, instead of just something I experienced.
So, here’s to growth and here’s to the completion of my blog of my experience aboard in Africa. As I have said before, this experience was literally a dream come true. I got to experience this because I wanted to find a solution to the lack of funds available for my collegiate career. I got to experience this because I believe in myself and I believe in the power of ‘one’. I got to experience this because the universe wanted to give back to me back to me what I have given and continue to want to give to it.
In most of my personal writings, I write about my love for humanity, my undying belief that your circumstances don’t define who you are and my ability to lead with my head and my heart. I remember that I am strong but I also remember that I am vulnerable enough to run back inside the burning house to save the boy. Or better yet, find the boy who started the fire in the first place and try to change him. I realize that I am knowledgeable but there’s no calculus problem that papa can’t help me solve. In the midst of my disposition, I remember to stay humble, bright and kind because when you’re humble your grateful, your thorough and complete; you’re beautiful and confident. And when you’re bright, you’re contagious, you’re a lover and boy - do you grow. And when you’re kind, you not only illuminate the wonder of the universe but you make peace with yourself and you make pace with humanity. I care about humanity and I am just trying to get humanity to care about itself. This is where it begins and none of us know where it will end. But, until then, I will continue to do what I do.
We boarded the bus at 8:30AM and headed to the Sylva Food Solutions. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a growing, agricultural company but I have found that institutions like these, have made it extremely easy for small Zambian Farmers to continue success on their own farms. After we got hands on training on how to curate the [chubwa-bwa], a Zambian plant, Allyson and I took an adventure walk to take a few pictures. As we were walking around, a lovely Zambian women who was looking for work, stopped us to ask us what we were doing. After three minutes, I looked up and we were surrounded by 8 women, asking us questions and telling us stories. It was a small but significant experience in my eyes. We also took awesome pictures in the Sylva Food Solutions Van which was fun! ^.^ I wish I could write and talk about every single experience but then, I would be blogging, day and night - so, moving on. After Sylva, we spent a lot of time with the students at Grassroot Soccer which was completely amazing. This organization is dedicated to educating students between the ages of 12-18 about HIV/AIDS. We were able to play games with these students and learn more about the educational structure of this program. I also learned a plethora of awesome Zambian phrases! :-) After a late lunch, we went to the Chikumbuso - Widows and Orphanage PROJECT. This was by far, one of my favorite visits of the trip. These resilient women shared their stories about how they became apart of the project. We also got a full on tour of the school and orphanage. I can’t explain in words how amazing this visit was so I made sure to take lots of video footage and pictures to share with everyone once I get back to the states! Tonight, we are packing, as our trip is coming to a very devastating end. I never want to leave this continent. The people here, have my heart.
They’re about 1 million orphans in Zambia due to HIV/AIDS.
I first want to start off by saying, I wish I could have physically taken you all to the places I visited today for I have met and spoken with children who have completely changed my life. Today was also a very important day because it was Nelson Mandela’s 94th Birthday! On Mandela Day, everyone sets aside 67 minutes to perform any duties of service. Fortunately, we were able to serve the community longer than that! Before we started our journey, we visited the ONE Office in Joburg, where we packaged little gifts for the kids we worked with today. It was nice to see how well ONE is expanding from a South Africa point of view. We visited a Child Day Care Center called Little Star in the township, Diepsloot, outside of Johannesburg. Johannesburg itself and the townships are literally night and day. The South African people of Diepsloot have tried their best to survive in communities under poverty stricken conditions. Working with the children at Little Star today, changed my life. They are all so beautiful, smart and funny! Even though it was our job to give to them, they were giving to us. We sang songs, danced, took pictures and gave them yummy snacks to eat! I wanted to cry, seeing the joy in the faces of these children, even though they didn’t grow up under the best conditions. The Child Care center has been doing everything they can to teach these children their basic learning skills but most importantly, I could tell they were teaching them the importance of being happy no matter what. These kids will be in my heart forever. After our morning visit at the Day Care, we got to visit with high school students who are apart of the Life College Program in South Africa. This program emphasizes the importance of leadership, entrepreneurial and overall life skills. Our ONE College Organizer, Matt Higginson, and I, were blessed to meet two 10th graders, Claudia and Melicia. The capacity at which these two young ladies spoke to us about their mentality on life, blew me away. More than half of the people in the world will die without being able to see the world through such a clear perspective as these students do. They brought tears to my eyes, just by simply explaining to me what life means to them and their strong conviction in not letting anyone define who they are, shined through their bright smiles and phenomenal articulation. It was remarkable and beautiful to say the least. It sincerely makes me feel bad for artificial people in the world. We are all so misguided and I am blown away to say that, I am have gained wisdom from a couple of sixteen year olds. They are definitely the face of our positive future. These students outshine most of the people I communicate with and a majority of students in the U.S. and I say that with pride. If only their level of maturity and understanding of life was seen by more people, the entire world would be changed. This generation, really needs to wake up. Where are you? After our remarkable visits, we literally ran to the bus so we wouldn’t miss our flight to Lusaka, Zambia! As I am sitting in my hotel room, “just now”, and writing this blog, I can’t help but cry knowing that the rest of my life will be this way; that the rest of my life will be dedicated to individuals like the kids and students I met today; that I will be learning and growing for the rest of my life. This is beautiful; life is beautiful and I will continue to be inspired…will you?
While in South Africa, we were afforded the opportunity to work with an amazing videographer/cinematographer named Ryan Youngblood. Check him out @ http://youngbloodfilms.com/Youngblood_Films/Home.html
The other day, on our way back from the Winnie Mandela Clinic, we had to stop our bus because a heard of cows were passing right across the freeway. For South Africans, that’s a part of everyday life but I was so fascinated by something so simple. Finding fascination in the simple thing, keeps you alive. On another note, this morning we had the privilege of visiting the Themba Lethu “Hope” Clinic at the Helen Joseph Hospital under the Right to Care Program. Now, this program is funded under PEPFAR and has been successfully running as an independent South African Health Program for the past 11 years. They’re the only South African Organization who has been given delegation rights of funds for other NGO’s by the United States Government. Even though this program is saving lives and progressing at a rapid pace, they’re at risk of a major budget cut from PEPFAR. Not only were we exposed to the in’s and out’s of the entire clinic, we were also privileged enough to meet with HIV/AIDS and TB victims who were willing to share their stories. Before meeting the patients, I had no idea what to expect but I have never met a group of individuals with so much soul and heart. One of the women commented, “It’s not HIV that kills people, it’s fear that does…” This statement alone goes to show how resilient these survivors are. I asked them questions about the growing problem of the spread of HIV/AIDS amongst the younger generations. Unfortunately, going out, getting drunk and having very casual sex is the new fad amongst the young people of South Africa. Many HIV survivors have advocated against the spread of HIV/AIDS by meeting and speaking with the youth of their communities and warning them about the dangers of unprotected sex. Talking with these patients gave me a completely different perspective of the epidemic of HIV. Many are unaware of the disease itself and what we as humanity need to do in order to stop it. After a great lunch at Moyo Park, we visited the Apartheid Museum, not too far for from Sandton City. To be completely honest, the museum visit educated me but depressed me at the same time. Learning the history of the Apartheid Era, definitely put a lot of the modern day South African social injustices into prospective. South Africans are living in the poorest conditions because of the history of white supremacy. Systematic oppression is seen in the starving faces of the children I have seen. Children without homes, new clothes and proper education are all suffering from the history of the Apartheid Era. It’s so devastating to see a whole generation suffer even after 17 years of the era ending. I can’t quiet describe the anger I feel towards these people’s oppressors. For many years, before whites entered South Africa, South Africans lived beautiful and rich lives. Now, they suffer from social turmoil, rape, crime, disease, poverty and so much more. Reviewing the pictures, commentary and videos at the museum was so much to take in all at once. I am so sad for these people and all I want is to see a little bit of relief. It almost seems as if so much damage has been done, where do you even begin to repair things? And I think a lot of South Africans actually have this mentality, which is why things are so stagnant. When I am given the political and social power to change things, I will. People always ask me, “Well, what do you want to do upon graduation?” And I simply say, “I want to change the world”. As broad as it seems and as much adversity as I receive for it, I will say that until I die because look around people! This world is so systematically screwed up that if we don’t have enough people saying, “I want to change the world,” it won’t ever happen. So, as a leader, I am the first to say it, believe it, and do it because there’s so much more going on besides “me” and my life. I don’t want my children growing up in a world where they feel hopeless about change. I am going to be the voice for those who cannot speak. Meeting with people who ask me to go back to the U.S. and talk to my congressmen, world leaders and celebrities, motivates me even more so! I am not going to leave these people here hopeless. I am going to keep my promise and one day, when I come back, I am going to tell these people what I have been doing in the U.S. to make sure we are doing everything we can to change their lives. Because global poverty and global injustices aren’t just “African” issues; they’re American issues and humanity issues. Humanity started in Africa and I am sure we will finish there so we need to take care of African people; we need to take care of “our” people.
So tonight, we ate at a traditional South African Restaurant at the Nelson Mandela Square where, the lovely waitresses walked around our table with a wooden bowl and warm water. With this wooden bowl and warm water, we were able to rinse our hands and dry them with vanilla enriched hand drying towels. By the end of the trip, I will have been convinced to move to South Africa. ♥
Early this morning, my team and I boarded our bus and headed out to a couple of townships. I am almost certain that we all were completely stunned by the amazing community outreach we saw today. First, we visited the Winnie Mandela Sexual Health Clinic for Males. Helen, the director of this facility, gave us a full on briefing on the entire clinic. It was interesting to learn the history behind why male circumcision is such an issue in the surrounding areas. Although there were worried mothers and scared little boys, the atmosphere of the clinic was calm and relaxed. It seemed as if the staff, doctors and nurses created an environment where families could bring there young men and older men for that matter, to come get circumcised in order to decrease their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, in a safe, healthy and stable environment. The staff was encouraging and brave. They spent most of their time out in the community, making civilians aware of the health benefits of circumcision. Seeing programs like this grow and expand, inspires me as a young activist because as a young activist, I do receive a lot of adversity about how efficient U.S. foreign aid actually is, and today, I was able to see that my efforts to increase U.S. awareness of the benefits of foreign aid, have not gone to waste, but better yet, have brought light to many who are still living in unbearable conditions. After an amazing lunch on Vilakazi St, we visited a township by the name of Kliptown. Living conditions in Kliptown are very poor due to the after math of apartheid. We met a man named Thulani Madondo, who founded the Kliptown Youth Program in 2007. Not only was I inspired by the resilience of the people of this township; I was specifically inspire by Thulani Madondo himself. This man grew up in Kliptown in a small shack with seven siblings. Him and his colleagues described the cycle of life for young people in Kliptown – Grow up, find a partner, have kids, repeat. They explained that the only way for the youth of Kliptown to find hope is to find a solid foundation in education, which is why, Thulani Madondo, made it his personal mission to start the KYP Afterschool Program. About 400 students go through this program at a time and they are well taken care of by the staff at KYP. They are provided with hot meals, games, activities and afterschool tutoring. The staff at KYP has so much heart and their smiles give me hope that one day, all 10,000 children in Kliptown will have seen a little bit of that hope. It’s a pleasure to specifically have been able to accompany ONE on this trip because as a member of one, recognizing the importance of listening and learning from the people who are actually facing these hardships has been an important step to understanding the struggles these people are facing. As Thulani Madondo said, “African solutions to African problems”; and we stand by that whole-heartedly. Knowing that these people want our support and ears and hands as friends, warms my heart because I know as activists, we are all able to do that for them. After today, I think the biggest issue with U.S. Foreign Aid is, a lot of people don’t recognize or are not informed of the magnitude in which these programs are changing lives and improving living conditions. I am blessed to have been able to acquire this information and knowledge and take it back to the U.S. and crush the ignorance’s and false stigmas people have about foreign aid. These people have so much soul and life inside of them; they deserve to live healthier and better. Before I die, I am going to make sure they are living healthier and better